Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Delivering laughs comes naturally to Disney performer Benjamin Ptashinsky

Big crowds, lots of laughter, and being a source of the fun. That's what makes professional actor Benjamin S. Ptashinsky mighty happy in life. The former East Penn resident has been a performer at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., since 2005 and most recently, was able to fulfill some of his "creative soul" with a month's run in the Tony Award-winning musical comedy, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

"I love making people laugh. It's the best. It's like a drug, and I just want to keep hearing it," said Ptashinsky, during a phone interview in between performances of "Spelling Bee," presented by the American Stage Theatre Company at Demens Landing in downtown St. Petersburg. He was playing the role of William Barfee, a competitor who goes on to capture the prize at a spelling bee at Putnam Valley High School. It's a show that incorporates plenty of volunteer audience participation and one that attracts big crowds and lots of laughter.

Life at Disney has been "creatively fulfilling" for Ptashinsky in the way of performing and writing. He's done a commercial for AAA and played Santa at Sea World. He's performed in special events, including with the Broadway cast of "Mary Poppins" for Disney's Christmas parade. Currently, he performs three days a week in "Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial" at the Magic Kingdom Park, Adventureland. He was part of a creative team that helped develop and launch the show. He also performs two days a week in another of his creative undertakings known as the "Storybook Circus Giggle Gang" at Disney's New Fantasyland. Themed after a grand circus of the 1940s, Ptashinsky described the production as a "Ringling-style clown show with a Disney budget."

"Disney wanted a clown character," he explained. "I never clowned, but I know how to make a joke funny. They had us read, and with a little bit of direction, I did Abbott & Costello's ‘Who's on First?' I got a call the next week to help create the show and actually work with four Ringling clowns who had all worked the road. Here we were in full makeup and costumes. The show is stunning, and the fun is universal with the crowds."

Lehigh Valley audiences may recall Ptashinsky's vocal talent and comedy antics years back when he performed with the local oldies band, "Class Act" (now known as "School's Out"), formed by Emmaus High School teachers Mike Flynn and Joe Riley. He played local fairs and parks, including Mayfair Festival of the Arts, and Das Awkscht Fescht.

Ptashinsky, a 2001 graduate of Emmaus High School (his parents still reside in Macungie), has been performing since age 11, starting at Mainstage Center for the Arts' Summer Stage in Gloucester Twp., N.J. At East Penn's Eyer Middle School, he performed in "Bye Bye Birdie," in high school as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," and in Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre's "Guys and Dolls," to name some. He also was a member of the school choir, Emmaus Chamber Harmony. He honed his acting skills during the summer months at New Jersey's Surflight Theatre at Long Beach Island, known as "Broadway at the Beach," working with a mix equity and non-equity actors and performing with singer John Davidson.

Prior to his 2005 graduation from Wilkes University, where he majored in musical theater, he auditioned in New York City for the musical, "Avenue Q." He recalled how when everyone went to lunch, he decided to walk around the building instead of wait around and came upon Disney auditions for Orlando. He was videotaped, singing his audition material, and got a call-back a week later to return to New York and read for Disney sides. Another call-back landed him a contract for one of Disney's longest running shows, "The Hoop-Dee-Doo" musical revue at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground near Orlando. It was family-fun with Wild-West dancing, singing and zany vaudeville comedy.

Ptashinsky said Disney has enabled him to grow as a performer.

"It's the hardest and most fulfilling job," he added.

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Grammy Award winners Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey continue the proud tradition of the 1960s iconic folk-singing trio Peter, Paul & Mary as they mark a 50-year anniversary with an appearance Friday at 8 p.m., at the State Theatre Center for the Arts in Easton.

Since the passing of beloved trio member, Mary Travers, in September 2009, the two men perform as a duo as they sing such classics as "If I Had a Hammer," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Puff (The Magic Dragon)," "I Dig Rock & Roll Music," and "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

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GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading begins a juried exhibit June 27 through July 21 – "The Women of NAWA Exposed." NAWA (Members of the National Association of Women Artists) celebrates the essence of women by asking them to expose themselves within their discipline using their own individual and unique voice in art. Founded in 1889, NAWA is located in New York and is recognized as the first professional women's fine art organization in the country as it provides a forum for women artists to share ideas and exhibit their work.

Also opening June 27 will be mixed-media art by Nancy Barch in the exhibit, "All Mixed Up." Textures and layers using paint and graphic methods in her work mimic the complexities of the subject matter she chooses.

A reception for both exhibits is set for July 12, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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